Though sports television is not as overt in its sexism as it once was, gender imbalance remains in how networks discuss female athletes, a new study from USC finds.

The study, initially commissioned in 1989 and updated every few years since, recently examined local television networks in Los Angeles as well as ESPN’s SportsCenter over three two-week segments. Researchers found that women’s sports coverage accounted for 3.2 percent of the airtime on local news, down from 5 percent in 1989 (despite the Title IX-fueled surge in female participation in sports), and only 2 percent of airtime on SportsCenter, according to a USC press release. Stories about women’s sports on local news averaged 44 seconds, while stories about women’s sports on SportsCenter averaged 77 seconds, nearly 50 percent shorter than the time given to men’s sports.

In addition to finding a dearth of airtime for women’s sports, the study discovered a difference of tone in how networks covered men’s and women’s events. According to researchers, women’s sports were discussed with less enthusiasm, as if the coverage were necessary but uninteresting.

Such overall respectful coverage may be progress from the time when Morganna the Kissing Bandit was one of the few women featured on the local sports report. However, even the improved tone of this coverage carried its own brand of chauvinism, or what the researchers termed “gender bland” — programming that is treated as a sort of mandatory and perfunctory “set aside.”

The researchers said that in this “gender-bland” programming, women’s athletic achievements are portrayed as “lackluster” and “uninspired.” That is, unless they are depicted as caring teammates or partners and spouses, such as 2016 Olympic trap-shooter medalist Corey Cogdell-Unrein’s portrayal in mainstream media as “the wife of a Chicago Bears linebacker.” 

Per the USC press release, the researchers will begin tracking women’s sports coverage again later this year, with plans for another update of this study in 2018.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.